Life is hard, and for our coastal and migratory birds it's getting harder with climate change, habitat loss and increasing disturbance all having major impacts on the availability of safe places for them to nest, roost and feed.

That's why the RSPB has got together with the National Trust as lead partners in a four year LIFE Nature-funded project called Life on the Edge with the aim of improving the condition of several target coastal sites and building long-term resilience into future planning.

Minsmere is one of the target sites that will benefit from this exciting project, alongside other RSPB reserves, including Titchwell Marsh in Norfolk, Pagham Harbour in Sussex and Morecambe Bay in Lancashire and Cumbria. You can read more about this project in last week's RSPB England blog.

Life on the Edge has three broad aims:

  1. Increase the area and improve the quality of coastal habitats within the target protected areas. 
  2. Develop recommendations for wider scale and longer-term coastal habitats management/creation. 
  3. Strengthen links with practitioners elsewhere in north-west Europe.   

Here at Minsmere, the project focusses on the Scrape, an artificial saline lagoon that is internationally famous for its breeding avocets, common and Sandwich terns and large black-headed gull colony, as well as an important migratory stop-over for thousands of wading birds and wintering area for ducks and geese.

East Scrape this week

The Scrape was created in the early 1960s by our pioneering warden, Bert Axell, and was the first example of this type of habitat creation in the world. As an artificial habitat it requires careful management by our wardens to maintain the correct water and salinity levels and to keep the nesting islands clear of encroaching vegetation. A natural saline lagoon would periodically flood with saltwater, killing off much off the vegetation which then decays to replenish nutrient levels, ensuring that there is ample food for the millions of invertebrates on which the waders and ducks feed.

The Scrape also benefits from occasional more dramatic management work, such as that planned with the Life on the Edge project, which will allow us reprofile the nesting islands and banks to benefit avocets and terns as well as improving viewing opportunities for visitors. Work will be undertaken during the winter months, ensuring that there is no disturbance to our breeding birds. Whilst work is underway there may be some disturbance on parts of the Scrape, but there'll always be plenty to see from the other hides overlooking the Scrape, and from the reedbed hides. We'll keep you posted with progress via these blogs and our Facebook and Twitter pages.

This week's variable weather has resulted in a bit of status quo in terms of birds on the reserve, with the sightings board in the visitor centre looking very similar from day to day. Of course, there have been some changes, with both the red-backed shrike and pectoral sandpiper departing over the weekend and the last of the avocets finally heading to the nearby estuaries. However, a few migrant waders remain, with sightings of a few ruff, knot, spotted redshank, green sandpiper and dunlin alongside the more numerous black-tailed godwits, lapwings and snipe.

Lapwing

Duck numbers continue to increase with good numbers teal, gadwall, shoveler, mallard and shelduck on the Scrape and Island Mere, many at last starting to acquire their breeding colours. Look carefully through the flocks on Island Mere and you should find coots, great crested grebes, cormorants, and perhaps the odd little grebe, tufted duck or pochard, while on the Scrape they are joined by large flocks of feral barnacle, greylag and Canada geese. There has also been a steady passage of dark-bellied brent geese flying south offshore.

Herons continue to attract the attention of visitors. Little egrets and grey herons are usually feeding on the Scrape, while luck and patience may be rewarded with a bittern or great white egret flying over the reedbed. You should be able to spot a few raptors, too: hobbies hunting dragonflies over the car park, beach or reedbed; kestrels around the North Wall and Visitor Centre; marsh harriers quartering the reedbed; buzzards along the entrance road and soaring over the woods; sparrowhawks raiding the visitor centre feeders or pursuing waders on the Scrape; or perhaps even a peregrine terrorising the ducks.

Don't forget to allow a few minutes to scan our feeders at the visitor centre as marsh and coal tits and a great spotted woodpecker are now regular while up to four nuthatches are almost continuously in view and the grey squirrels are certain to provide added entertainment.

Nuthatch

Finally, returning to the theme of Life on the Edge, here's a few easy things to think about whilst you are enjoying winter walks along the coast or rivers:

  • Look out for feeding birds along the shoreline and give them plenty of space
  • Keep dogs on leads alongside rivers, coasts and estuaries, so that they don’t scare hidden birds roosting on the ground.
  • Share the RSPB’s new #WatchyourStepvideo to help spread the word about wonderful winter waders! 
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